Since the loss to Oregon in Week 2, Ohio State football has had to endure the talk. The Buckeyes haven’t proven their mettle on the field. Sure, they’re 8-1. But the 2nd best win on the OSU schedule so far? That would be over 3-7 Nebraska, at least according to ESPN’s FPI rankings, which have the Huskers at No. 29, well ahead of Minnesota (41), Indiana (70), Maryland (76) and Rutgers (80). And don’t mention Tulsa (85) or Akron (127).

Ohio State’s powerful offense? Rolling up yards against subpar defenses stuck playing from behind. The improved defense? Well, it struggled with Minnesota and Tulsa.

The CFP? Well, what has Ohio State done to prove itself as one-fourth of the quartet of college football’s best teams? So far, admittedly, not that much. But that is where the next 3 weeks come in.

Purdue, coming up next, might not be a marquee game. But the Boilermakers, 6-3 and 32nd in those FPI rankings, knocked off Michigan State and it hasn’t been that many years (3) since they took down an undefeated Ohio State team by a 49-20 margin that held the Buckeyes out of that year’s CFP. Purdue presents an opportunity for another quality win for an OSU team that can use a quality win.

And then, of course, there are the two Michigan schools. State comes first, and even with that loss to Purdue, beating the Spartans would represent another quality win that would differentiate Ohio State from, say, Cincinnati or Notre Dame. And of course, that leaves The Team Up North. Regardless of record, beating Michigan carries prestige, even when it’s something Ohio State has done in 15 of the last 16 meetings.

So the good news for the Buckcyes is that their fate will largely rest in their own hands. Take care of business, beat Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan, and the quality of wins will greatly increase. A clean sweep of the games would leave OSU with 4 wins over teams in the FPI Top 25 and likely the AP Top 25 as well. Given the wild parity of college football, the 2021 season’s wind-down is more about not losing than anything else. Win ugly, win controversial, win by underwhelming margins. But just win.

The bad news for the Buckeyes is that another slip is probably deadly. An 11-2 Ohio State team is highly unlikely to reach the CFP. And Ohio State has no similar experience in its schedule to playing these last 3 games. Minnesota and Oregon was a reasonably challenging 2-game run, and the past 2 against Penn State and Nebraska were probably harder than a scan of wins and losses would indicate.

Still, Ohio State has to be excited to be able to take its Playoff position out of the hands of commentators and win-weighers, not to wonder about whether a victory is by enough points to be impressive (which, by the way, the last 2 wins really weren’t). Mid-November has Ohio State likely creeping into the CFP and having a perfect opportunity to stay there. Just keep winning. The rest will be essentially noise.